I don’t hate attorneys. The question is rather, when do you need to use their advice and knowledge? When you need them, and sooner or later you will, you need to have the right attorney on your team. How do you find that attorney? They’re not all created equal. Some actually know what they’re doing. And some, well, I’d question. It’s also a matter of using them at the right time. There are many things you can do on your own.
When I first began creating products, my ideas were fun and clever. I was inventing for the novelty gifts industry, the fashion and toy industry. I had no need for legal advice and counsel. But then I had a big idea – and I ran out and got an attorney. I was right to understand that I needed one, that it was going to be a fight and I’d be dealing with large companies. But I did rush into it a little bit. I want to help you avoid the mistake I made, to suppress your fear and slow down.
Attorneys are going to sell you a little fear. They want you to believe that you need to patent your idea as soon as possible. But if they are truly honest with you, they’ll tell you that it’s a lot of selling and just a little about protection. They will be able to protect your idea. That’s not the issue. But can you sell it? There’s a reason 97% of all patented ideas never make it to the marketplace…
If you have a simple idea, do your homework. Read about process and study the marketplace. Pick up a few books or visit some online forums. Learn. Absorb. If you show a patent attorney or agent your idea, I guarantee they’re going to tell you, “That’s a great idea!” My attorneys have loved every single one of my ideas. But you need to remember their specialty is law, and not innovation. You need to be your own expert. Don’t depend on your attorney to tell you if your idea is solid or not.
So, how can you find the right attorney for you? Start finding and building a relationship now, before you’re staring a contract that has terms you don’t understand.
Find one by referral. The USPTO website lists every patent agent and attorney on its website by state. But what is much better is for someone to personally recommend one to you. Find someone you respect in your industry (or a similar one) and ask him or her. The attorneys I’ve worked with for over a decade were referred to me.
Patent Agent Don Kelly, a long-term friend, explained that, “Most of us in the patent search and prosecution field offer at least a half-hour free consultation.” Don’t use that time on information you could easily learn somewhere else. He also offered that it’s important to prioritize what you’re really looking for. Do you want a relationship that’s face to face? It makes more sense to look for an attorney in the local Yellow pages. But meeting face to face is hardy a necessity, and far from the norm. It just depends on what you want and need in your attorney.
Talk about rates. How do they bill? By the hour? Thirty minutes? Ask for an estimate for the entire project, also. If they go too far over, and they will go over, you can ask them to adjust the price.
You must also understand that your attorney is only as good as the information you provide them. Don Kelly said that absolutely, a working relationship must be “totally upfront and honest. I need to know everything you do or are aware of.”
I originally naively thought that they were going to take care of everything! But I eventually learned that I needed to be the expert about my innovation and my technology, about what claims I wanted and needed to get. This requires you to do your own research about existing claims and technology.
Don’t ramble. State plainly in an email, “This is what I want to discuss.” It will save you so much money.
As I said before, I’ve been with my current legal team now for over a decade. My relationship with them has been very important! Take the time to find the right fit for you.
Stephen Key is a successful award-winning inventor who has licensed over 20 products in the past 25 years. Along with business partner Andrew Krauss, Stephen runs inventRight, a company dedicated to educating inventors about selling their ideas and the skills needed to succeed. You can ask questions and get advice on the inventRight forum, check out the resource center, and listen to the weekly radio show on inventing.